Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Religion's entry point

Jeff has a good, thorough post up at Issues in Mormon Doctrine. While I don't think I have the skills to tackle the questions in the way they need to be, I certainly enjoy fundamental questions like this.

Since so many points are made in this post, I thought I would try and answer a few that jumped out at me. Instead of adding this to his blog, I figure I will do it hear. Things will be rather tangential.

Many religionists, however, might want to call their ultimate epistemic claims authoritative by expertise as well, after all, God knows everything and that's why we should accept His claims. Nevertheless, this authority is qualitatively different than that claimed by scientists. For starters, this Authority is always hidden from us. He is unable to give His own testimony, instead relying upon the authority of position granted to the chosen few. Secondly and similarly, these claims to expertise are shrouded in mystery. No attempts are made, nor can they be, to verify this Expert's methods. Whereas the verifiable expertise of the scientist is ultimately based in experience, the unverifiable expertise of religion is filtered through the illegitimate authority of position and is ultimately shrowded in impenetrable mystery.

I don't think I accept this point. I think God's knowledge is certainly knowable and communicable. However, I think dissemination of this knowledge may be impractical. For instance, if 6 billion people were asking a single prof the answer for every question they had, he might not be able to answer much. There would have to be a way to filter things down to important questions. Since I think God has much more to do than deal with just us right now, things are even more limited. Of course not many people accept the idea of such a limited God.

However this doesn't seem to be the main point. Verification seems to be the issue. The contention is that religion needs to be reliable. To me, reliability must exist in balance with accessibility. If people have different ways of conceiving God, interpreting context, and reaching conclusions, the entry point for revelation is rather large. There is not one way to receive it. Certainly there could be, but then the people who do not experience things in similar ways would be left out. Look at the problems we have with people assuming the spirit can only be felt by a burning bossom. It seems part of the problem is our assumption of inherit uniformity. We seem to accept the idea that spiritual information could in fact be disseminated in the way everyday knowledge is. However this is based on an assumption that there is a common way to communicate. For mormons this would have been standardized in the pre-mortal life, for other Christians, it would have been part of how God made us.

Ignoring the creedal Christian approach, I don't know if we should assume that we actually knew how to communicate with God overly well in the pre-mortal life. Things could well have been close to the hit and miss fare we have now (hence a possible need for Christ as a pre-mortal mediator between us and the Father). If this is the case, it only stands to reason that our communication skills would now be quite varied. Perhaps part of this mortal experience is to standardize the way we communicate, forcing us to come to partial terms with this variety.

If we agree communication skills may be varied, there must be a compromise between access and reliability. Greater access means less rigor and lower reliability. Communication is fuzzy as it conforms to individual backgrounds, skils, and previous experience. This compounds interpretive problems. This is not necessarily bad, just not scientific. Basically we have numerous people running wild with applications that are taken out of context and applied as specifics when they really may be quite vague or contextually dependent.

Why? Well I think we certainly do have a tendency to avoid vagueness. I think we also have a tendency to expect revelation to be infallible, not withstanding human conveyance and interpretation. We avoid enforcing revelatory rigor because it certainly isn't our job and certainly not within our skill set. So perhaps the answer to the whole issue is to take a look at the type of religious experience that is common, and hence testable. From this we should be able to get a list of things that can be concluded.

To be continued

1 comment:

Clark Goble said...

I think you're right about vagueness. It seems that in so many of these discussions that gets left out. And frankly I think we know more details than we actually can justify.